September 30th, 2010
01:12 PM ET

'100 percent' chance for life on newly found planet?

An artist rendering shows the four inner planets of the Gliese 581 system and their host star.

Gliese 581g may be the new Earth.

A team of astronomers from the University of California and the Carnegie Institute of Washington say they've found a planet like ours, 20 light years (120 trillion miles) from Earth, where the basic conditions for life are good.

"The chances for life on this planet are 100 percent," Steven Vogt, a UC professor of astronomy and astrophysics says. "I have almost no doubt about it."

The planet is three times the size of Earth, but the gravity is similar.

Dr. Elizabeth Cunningham, planetarium astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, says the discovery is a huge deal.

"It could have liquid water on the surface," she said. "That's the first step to find life."

The Gliese 581 system's orbit compared to our own solar system. The planet labeled G is the one scientists believe could very likely support life.

There are hundreds of known extrasolar planets that have been discovered in the Milky Way, but this is the first that could support life.

Earthlings won't be traveling to Gliese 581g any time soon unfortunately. Scientists say a spaceship traveling close to the speed of light would take 20 years to make this journey.

But if we did - we'd find some other things familiar. The atmosphere and gravity are similar to Earth, and if you're from the polar regions, you'd definitely feel right at home. Scientists say the highest average temperature is about -12 degrees Celcius (10 Fahrenheit), but they point out that the planet doesn't have a night and day - one side continually faces the star and the other side faces the darkness of space. This means one side is blazing hot and the other freezing cold.

Gliese orbits a red dwarf star called Gliese 581. Cunningham says "it's a Goldilocks planet."

"It's not too hot, it's not too cold, it's just right" for water to form, Cunningham said.

The area is called the "Goldilocks zone."

Other planets near Gliese 581g have been discovered, but they are not habitable and are mainly comprised of gas. Gliese 581g, however, is a rocky planet.

It was discovered using the Keck telescope in Hawaii which has been observing the star Gliese 581 for 11 years.

"Keck's long-term observations of the wobble of nearby stars enabled the detection of this multi-planetary system," said Mario R. Perez, Keck program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington.

Astronomers are excited this new planet was discovered so fast and relatively close by.

"I'm surprised we found one so fast," Cunningham said. "The implication is either we were very lucky or these planets could be relatively common."

Gliese 581g is in the constellation of Libra. While Earth takes 365 days to orbit our star, the sun, Gliese 581g orbits its star in 37 days.

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Filed under: Science • Space
soundoff (1,327 Responses)
  1. matt

    sometimes, scientists dream too much. Making guesses is not science. A few rays of light, won't tell us much more than the basic composition...maybe. To make the leap to almost 100% chance of life is a bit too wacky....like religious folks saying 100% chance that God exists. Reserve judgement, be prudent, be not fools.

    September 30, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. adamjohnmusic

    Here is a better article on the same story. http://www.physorg.com/news204999128.html

    September 30, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bill W

    How is it that a planet 20 light years away can be seen with water on it yet no one ever sees UFOs? UFOs sighting are never more than some blur of light going across the sky.

    September 30, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Turveyd

    100% CHANCE, you lot are reading it wrong, there is a 100% CHANCE and only a chance there is life there, it's a play on words, the CHANCE Part means 100% there COULD be life there not that is.

    But I don't get the 3times the size and same gravity, what is it made out of marsh mellow or something.

    And the average temperature might be -12c but it's +200c ( guess ) on the sun side getting cooler as you head into the dark side where it's likely -150c, there will be a band where it's acceptable but......

    If the Planet has any rotation relative to the sun then you couldn't survive in the okay area as you'd have to be running really fast and moving to stay in the cool zone and you'd be running into the frozen waste land or the scorched land.

    Basically you won't find anything there above pretty much single cell life forms which is what they mean by LIFE!!

    September 30, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      The planet is so close to the star that it is tidally locked, much like our Moon. The burning hot part stays burning hot. The frigid night side is eternally dark. The ring of morning and evening twilight circles the planet from pole to pole, perpendicular to the equator. Thus, the nice, habitable in-between is stationary, and it's every bit as nice at the poles as the equator near the terminator. Since the planet is 3x the size of Earth, this habitable zone is a huge area of land/sea. Fun stuff!

      September 30, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • RayRay

      I don't think so. 100% chance means the possibiltiy is 100%. If what you say is true than even 1% possibility is 100% chance, right? Because 1% possibility, though low, is a definite chance, right? The scientist was a retard to state that, considering that we have a handful of worlds in this solar system alone that are in the haibtable zone (not just Earth) but as of yet we don't know for certain if life exists elsewhere in our solar system. I believe it does, but when talking about chances we need to keep to the scientific method and curb our enthusiasm to believe something because it's exciting we want to believe it.

      September 30, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Shiekralucario00

    I think if we disturb Gliese 581g we may want to start colonize and it will only suffer the same fate of our planet. Think about it we drain our fuel andpollute everywhere what do you think will happen to this planet?

    September 30, 2010 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sam

    Very irresponsible of a scientist to say that he is 100% sure of such a thing. There are really very few things we can be 100% sure of and life on a planet 20 light years away is certainly not one of them.

    September 30, 2010 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ImNoScientistBut...

    So let me get this straight:
    100% sure... with almost no doubt.
    One side of the planet is "blazing hot", but the highest average temperature is 10 degrees F.
    And liquid water is present despite the temperature.

    Am I on crazy pills?

    September 30, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • sam

      Well the life there would be evolved for those conditions. That certainly would not be ideal conditions for humans or much of the life that we know, but if other pieces of the puzzle are in place, life can deal with the temperature.

      September 30, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mary

    Can Nasa please put a picture of it in google earth... the sky section. I looked for it in the constellation of Libra.. not there.

    September 30, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. michael

    Man not smart enough to live long enough to enjoy other worlds your dreaming!
    Can't even take care what you have and you want more!
    You have a right to dream!

    September 30, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Albert E.

    "Can we get a probe going in that direction and what would its velocity be and time to planet? (then 20 years to send a signal back, right)"

    Traveling at the speed of the Apollo spacecraft, it would take over 500,00 years to arrive at this new planet – but then only 20 years to send back a signal, so that would be good.

    September 30, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sitnalta

      Well, it'd only take 331,000 years if we went Voyager 1 speed.

      September 30, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Albert E.

      I thought Voyager would be a little cramped.

      September 30, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sitnalta

    Why is everybody reporting this like it's a sure-thing that there's life on this planet? We don't even know what the chemical composition is, weather or not it even HAS an atmosphere, or if complex molecules could survive on the surface. It could be a desiccated husk like Mars, especially if there's no magnetosphere. All we know is the mass, average density, and distance from Gliese. That tells us NOTHING of the climate.

    Let's see some better science reporting, CNN. Don't just parrot what some scientist says.

    September 30, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • khadar

      Um, actually they stated the atmosphere is similar to earths, they said everything is set to maintain life, however there may not be life on there..........please remember that life doesn't mean animals/humans it could also be plants, organisms it may even be a planet of only aquatic creatures. I'm a master student in physics and I can tell you for sure that if there were intelligent life at our capabilities or higher, we would have know. And for the subject of global warming, please understand that global warming has happened in the past. The stone Age, was basically in the state we are now with dense carbons in the air. The earth may be conditioning itself for change.......

      Don't get me wrong though cars and other carbon emmissionaries are responsible for the large sum of CO2 in the air, but i just don't believe it will be such a big deal in the long run....

      September 30, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
  12. drico4u2

    DONT WORRYSEND MEXICANS WE WILL BE THERE 2

    September 30, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Wake up

    RT and George from LA...

    I am a masters student so please do not go and tell me to get an education. Maybe YOU should become a productive member of society and contribute more than just your dead end jobs.
    Oil reserves are in NO WAY about to expire. The mass amounts of oil that it left is endless AND it continually renews itself. If you people actually read and stopped relying on google or the local news you would understand that NO method of testing is reliable or valid when studying global warming. Local news stations distort the information and any uneducated moron (like yourselves) can post anything to google.
    As stated previously, please wake up people.

    September 30, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Robert

    Absolutely unethical to try to use science this way. There is no way to say 100% chance that life exists here.

    We need to actually use science for what it is good for, not these ridiculous prognostications that only inflame the press and fanatics among us. Science is very, very helpful...this kind of rampant speculation isn't helpful.

    The media needs to be more responsible with this kind of reporting. But we can't expect that either.

    September 30, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. max

    I'd like to point out that this was discovered specifically by the University of California, SANTA CRUZ campus. Not sure why we dont deserve individual recognition instead of writing an article that makes everyone in the world think Cal did it.

    And if you want a much less spun, clear-worded article that doesnt leave room for so much fantastical debate, go to the santa cruz website at ucsc.edu and read their press release about it.

    September 30, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • sly

      yeah i agree with you! ...Im a student at UCSC myself.

      -but again its CNN, what do you expect?

      -Slugs!!!!!

      September 30, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
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